Warm welcome for braveheartsOverseas-education | Crystal Wu 22 Dec 2020
With Hong Kong schools seeing a horde of immigrating students dropping out and competitive elite schools like Diocesan Girls' School opening up applications to transfer students, the topic of immigration and studying overseas is clearly still in many parents' minds.
Britain has always been one of the main study abroad destinations for Hong Kong students.
While many of us here at the former British colony are very familiar with the English education system, we may often overlook the lesser-known brother of the English - the Scots.
"The Scottish education system is an ancient and well-respected entity, but A-levels have come to dominate the discourse about qualifications in the UK," said Ian Munro, the rector of Dollar Academy in Scotland.
Having worked in the English as well as the Scottish system, Munro is familiar with both schooling systems.
In the UK, there are three education curriculums for the country's youths: Scotland follows the Curriculum of Excellence; England and Wales follow the National Curriculum; and Northern Ireland has its Northern Ireland Curriculum.
In this article, we will place our focus on the Scottish education system and its difference from the English one and Hong Kong's.
The first six years of the three systems are similar. Afterward, English and Hong Kong students graduate from primary school and head into secondary school: year seven and form one, respectively.
However, students in Scotland have seven years of primary school and therefore, they study primary seven between the ages of 11 and 12.
As Scots go on to secondary school at the ages of 12 to 13, the grade numbering goes back to one.
Therefore, like the students in Hong Kong, Scottish students go on to secondary one.
However, age-wise, they are still heading into secondary school in the same year, as Scots start school a year earlier than Hong Kong children.
The similarities between the current Hong Kong and Scottish systems do not end there.
While Hong Kong students are subject to a Territory-wide System Assessment in primary three, six and secondary one for Chinese, English and math, the Scots take the Scottish National Standardised Assessments in primary one, four, seven and secondary three for literacy and numeracy - more frequent testing but fewer subjects.
After the 334 educational reform in Hong Kong, secondary school students have to take only one standardized examination in form six - the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.
However, in Britain, students still take two standardized examinations throughout secondary.
Munro pointed out that the notable difference between the English and Scottish systems starts after the age of 16.
"If I am in the English system, I am doing the GCSEs, and if I am in the Scottish system, I'm doing National Fives," he explained. "Now those typically are one-year courses that finish up in an exam, and I actually think there's great similarities there."
While in the old days, Hong Kong students took their Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination in form five, Scottish students take their National Fives in secondary four, which is generally equivalent to the English taking their GCSEs in year 11.
Heading into secondary five, students in the Scottish system will typically pick five subjects and study for one year to prepare for the Highers - the national school-leaving certificate exams - that will grant them the Scottish Qualifications Certificate, which qualifies them for university in Scotland or elsewhere.
This means that, unlike in England, where students have to study three subjects for two years before taking the A-levels, students can graduate from secondary school in Scotland as early as 17 - the same age as Hong Kong students graduating from form six after the HKDSE.
Examples of Russell Group universities that accept students with five Highers include the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, the University of Exeter and Newcastle University.
Other top British universities that accept students with five Highers include the University of St Andrews and the University of Aberdeen.
However, highly competitive programs may require extra qualifications. Therefore, some students will take more Highers or Advanced Highers for another year, though it is not compulsory.
"Generally it is said that in the Scottish system, there is more flexibility and there is more breadth," said Munro.
He said that in England and Wales, one examination at the end of two years will determine students' fate. This is also the case in Hong Kong.
"I think that is really high stakes, whereas in Scotland, I have my exams halfway through and then I have another year where I can maybe change direction," said Munro.
Founded in 1818, Dollar Academy is the oldest coeducational day and boarding school in the world.
It offers the widest range of Higher and Advanced Higher subjects across Scotland. Some of the more uncommon subjects provided at Dollar Academy include microbiology and Latin.
While the idea that British education is not just GCSEs and A-levels might feel novel, Munro emphasized that Scottish qualifications are globally recognized and held in high regard. The academic outcome for children studying in Scotland could be just as strong as long as they work hard.
"Scotland is a friendly and outward-looking country, and I think any student who comes to study with us will get a very warm welcome," said Munro.